Girls doesn’t just employ the “cringe” tactic on a week-to-week basis. It relies on it. Since its inception in 2011, its creators have taken that awful-pit-of-your-stomach feeling and discovered interesting applications to the lives of four New York women. Maybe The Office sent the technique into the mainstream, but Girls perfected it with a harsh edge of reality. Think Hannah’s unapologetic narcissism. Think Jessa’s holier-than-thou statements.
This week, that shit got out of control.
And I’m not sure it’s for the best. “Ask Me My Name” took a turn for the weird, the conniving. It’s an episode that made you both sympathize and hate Mimi-Rose Howard—all supported by these cringe-worthy moments. We’ll get there in a second, but this whole mess started started with a man. His name is Fran.
Hannah’s substitute teaching now, and this “Fran” is a teacher—proper—at the school. To her credit, Hannah does a fine job, integrating the term “MILF” into a lesson on Oedipus Rex. And as bummed as I was to see Hannah run out and become a teacher, subbing seems like a fine middle ground for her—for now. Fran and Hannah meet in the teacher’s lounge over a box of apple juice, where the short-sleeved, tie-wearing Fran asks Hannah out for drinks. Fran is played by Jake Lacy, who’s a welcome face in the Girls world—and an appropriate cameo for this episode. The former Office alum—you might remember him as “New Jim”—showed off his New York 20-something acting chops in Jenny Slate’s great Obvious Child.
I like the writers’ setup with this date scenario. Hannah seems hopeful, happy to go on a first date. She mentions marrying the guy when talking to Elijah, and this is based on their many, many common interests (“We’re both academics.”) Hannah seems ready to move forward in an Adam-less world, and good for her—their power couple name could be “Frannah,” so that’s a plus.
The two hit it off over a few drinks, and then Hannah wants to go to an art show. That’s a normal first date thing to do, right?
NO. IT’S NOT A NORMAL FIRST DATE THING TO DO BECAUSE THE ART SHOW IS MIMI-ROSE HOWARD’S ART SHOW. HANNAH, WHAT IN THE ACTUAL F.
There’s so much cringe that happens at this art show, titled “Ask Me My Name.” It’s a gallery of people wearing different vests, explaining their life story. When character acting isn’t going on, the real tension’s between so many characters. First, we get some Hannah-on-Adam cringing. Then Adam-on-Fran eye-battling. Then we get some Fran-on-Hannah what-in-the-fuck-you-brought-me-to-your-ex-boyfriend’s-girlfriend’s-art-show-on-our-first-date glares. High tension this week, I told you.
If you told me it was going to get worse through this episode, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But it does. I think a lot of relief from our cringe-worthy moments in Girls comes from the camaraderie all four women provide in the aftermath. Marnie is always there to talk some sense into Hannah. Hannah is always there to throw a fit at Marnie. Jessa’s there as a living reminder of not taking things so seriously. Once in a blue moon, Shosh is there to calm everyone the hell down.
That’s felt disjointed this season. With most of the girls either pairing off, moving, or getting sober, this core group has only merged for social gatherings like this one. So it’s weird to see Hannah’s ugly moments being tamed down by none other than Mimi-Rose Howard. The two take a cab after Hannah’s date rightfully ditches her at the show. They’re going to meet Adam and one of Mimi-Rose’s exes Ace (played by Zachary Quinto) at a bar. Hannah dictates a cab driver’s move, and boom. Dude hits an old lady. The two are confined to one New York block for half of the episode, where they spend the time hashing out their differences. Adam, meanwhile, gets a dose of Mimi-Rose’s ex. The guy’s still in love with her, but warns Adam about how manipulative she can be.
Another weird fake-out move from the Girls team. If an ex calls their former flame manipulative, that ex is probably being manipulative, right? Not in this case. Mimi-Rose displays some cold-ass conniving shit mid-episode, when she bargains with Hannah for Adam. Mimi-Rose says in exchange for an unnamed something, she’ll distance herself from this man until their relationship is no more. On one hand, you can tell Hannah’s uncomfortable with the situation. But by the end of the episode, you’re fairly confident the loneliness is killing her, too. There are just manipulative gears turning in so many characters.
Oh, Jessa too. She’s trying to make Ace fall in love with her: “I’ll be pregnant with his twins by May,” she tells Adam.
I wasn’t in love with this episode. Pages on pages could be written on just how screwed up relationships have turned in the span of 30 minutes. And if Hannah follows through with this Mimi-Rose plan, it’s only getting worse. Mimi-Rose is treating a human being—an emotionally fragile one, at that—as a transaction. One who Hannah wants back more than pretty much anything. It’s an impossible situation, and if we’ve learned anything from Girls history (remember Hannah’s sympathy-inducing “sick cousin” story?), we can probably guess how this plays out.
Girls is a gritty tale about the realities of young people in the modern world. But even with good friends, you’ve got to turn your head now and then when it gets too rough. Depending on how this plays out, I’d argue that we’re reaching that point.
Tyler is a writer at Paste. His only experience with Girls comes thanks to HBO. You can follow him on Twitter.